Less than half the fleet finish Round the Island race

Almost 1,600 boats crossed the start-line to begin the 75th Round the Island Race this Saturday. Despite the number of competitors, the main challenge facing the boats was the weather, or lack of it. A slow-moving high pressure system expanding from the south of Ireland meant sunny skies but desperately light airs, with windspeeds dropping below 2knts at times.

Shirley Robertson fired the gun for the Open 60s, the first class to start at 0600hrs. The starting sequence was completed by the Folkboats drifting over the line at 0820hrs.

Problems began as the first of the white sail fleet arrived at the Needles at around 1000am. Faced with northerly winds of only 2/3knts and a tide turning on the ebb againist them, the boats, many of them trying to pass between the Needles lighthouse and Valvassi wreck, were suddenly becalmed.

The result was pure chaos, as boats parked up and those following them tried, and failed, to squeeze through behind them. Totally depowered, no-one could manouevre their vessels, and crew scrambled for fenders to try and minimise the damage. Some boats were more unlucky than others, however; with no space to move, one smashed straight into the outer Needles rock, and there were plenty of expensive ‘thuds’ as keels met the Varvassi wreck. Faced with an adverse tide until four in the afternoon and a cut-off time of ten that evening, much of the fleet had no option but to turn their engines on and try and navigate themselves safely back out of the gridlock. The figures speak for themselves: of 1587 boats that started, only 735 – less than half – finished.

Even the lead boats, without the tidal issues of the later starts, has difficulty in completing the circumnavigation. The VX40 catamarans, who had hoped to break Francis Joyon’s 2001 record of 3hrs, 8 minutes and 29 seconds,found themselves becalmed off Ventnor, with the wind all over the place. Drifting round to Ryde, they were headed by the wind swinging west on the home run. PBO caught up with Dee Caffari, now back from her record-breaking solo circumnavigation and sailing onboard the British VX40 Basilica for the day. She told us that being back ashore after such a long trip was ‘extremely weird’, but that it was now providing her with ‘some fantastic opportunities, like sailing with the boys today… even if it was frustratingly slow at times!’

The Dutch VX40 Holomatro took line honours, closely followed by Charles Dunstone’s TP52 Red, the first monohull home at 1517hrs. On corrected time, Contessa 26 Rosina of Beaulieu, took the Gold Roman Bowl trophy for an impressive third time.

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